NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Two years after the Civil War, former slaves formed a Norfolk-based benevolent organization that provided shelter from the lynching era to Jim Crow, to the turbulent 1960s, and more.

Former slaves Annetta M. Lane of Norfolk and Harriet R. Taylor of Hampton are the founders of the United Order of Tents. The national organization remains headquartered in Norfolk and membership spans from Maryland to Georgia. The Order has not been able to identify an image of Taylor.

The United Order of Tents, District No. 1

“This is one organization that has really done everything that they could do to help Black people from the times of Jim crow and the underground railroad to the present time,” said Norfolk City Councilman Paul Riddick.

Norfolk Councilman Paul Riddick (WAVY photo/Regina Mobley)

In the 1950s, Church Street was the only place in Norfolk where a Black person could own a business, but that didn’t mean a local bank would give them a loan. That’s where The United Order of Tents stepped in.

“We offered loans for individuals that were able to buy homes and individuals who needed money,” said Order historian Shirley Braxton-Houze.

United Order of Tents historian Shirley Braxton-Houze
(WAVY photo/Regina Mobley)

155 years later, Virginia recognized the Order with a historical marker outside the organization’s headquarters.

United Order of Tents, Southern District No. 1

A few in the crowd to witness the unveiling represent the next generation of leadership in the Black community.

“We have so many women who are doing amazing work in the community and our job my job is to pull them into this history and connect them with the women who have been doing this for so long,” said Norfolk Del. Jackie Hope Glass.

Glass, a former member of the United States Navy, represents Norfolk in the General Assembly. She’s working to build new tents to offer protection from crime, poverty and other social ills.

“When we talk about people who are minoritized, there is no factor that is not impacted by consistent minoritization of them,” said Hope Glass.

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Annetta M. Lane